It isn’t often a book grabs me so fully that I have to read it right to the end without pause. Brandon Sanderson’s Elantris is one of those though. It is curious really, as I’ve always been a bit hesitant to pick it up. I could never put my finger on why, but I would read the back, it would pique my interest but I would always put it back. However, I can say after finally reading it in a twelve-hour marathon, that it is one of the best novels I have read in a very long time.
I think, for me, the driving force behind why Elantris is so good has be the cast of characters: they are superb and inherently human. Even from the first line of the novel, “Prince Raoden of Arelon awoke early that morning, completely unaware he had been dammed for all eternity.” Brandon Sanderson draws us in with vivid hooks. While it is easy to shrug this off as a little melodramatic, it is simply the first in a series of superb hooks that force you to read on and discover how Raoden will adapt to his damnation and his new position. It is clear from early on, that Raoden is a character that is infectiously optimistic and driven not out of self-interest but genuine care for his people and those around him. Elantris itself seems to delve into and explore the psyche of human existence and human desire. Our ability to be kind, always one step away from our complete disinterest in the world around us, and that only a circumstance away from being inhumane.
These themes are found throughout the novel, especially focused on the desperate and at times feral nature of the denizens of Elantris and are balanced by the swirling maelstrom of intrigue that surrounds Serene. As a stranger in a foreign land, Serene must adapt to an entire culture, while coming to terms that the husband was to marry is dead and the terms of their political marriage binds her tighter to his country, than their marriage ever could. Even though she never meets her husband to be, she is soon to discover that the foreign land she finds herself in teeters on the brink of anarchy, wrought by religious and social upheaval only aided by its king. It is one of many examples where it seems that the world building that Sanderson has brought together is sublime.
I don’t think I have encountered a character like Raoden, one whom I pity, one who I desperately hoped to overcome his situation in quite some time. As the novel progressed, I found myself torn from not wanting him to die or to fall prey to the Hoed, an affliction worse than death.
If you are inclined to enjoy Fantasy, Elantris is a novel you simply cannot afford to overlook.
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